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October 2015 Vol 54 No 4
The Spirituality of
Laudato si'

Do Not Be Afraid: Laudato Si’ and Integral Ecology

Writing from the perspective of Asia Pacific, Pedro Walpole sees in Laudato si’ a call to restore a sense of what is enough to human living, avoiding unsustainable over-consumption. One way to foster this is to deepen the bonds of solidarity between people living in different parts of the world. To live in this way will require a change of outlook that ultimately spirituality alone can promote and support.

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Laudato si’ : A Biblical Angle

Laudato si’ is notable for the many biblical passages that it cites. Nick King shows that it does not employ these as ‘proof texts’, taking verses out of context to shore up pre-established positions. Instead, Pope Francis offers a thoughtful reading of a wide range of carefully selected texts, which taken together present a challenge that it will be difficult to ignore.

On Being Open to Changing Our Minds: A Response to Laudato si'

The first European settlers in Australia saw the work of clearing the land of its native vegetation to make room for crops, livestock and housing as carrying out the will of God. Now Pope Francis calls urgently for the protection of natural habitats. Beth Crisp finds in Ignatian spirituality resources for Australians and all of us to face a change of outlook of this magnitude.

Ecoogy, Angels and Virtual Reality: A Triptych

The spirit of a place is a common image, dating back at least to the Roman idea of genius loci. Rob Marsh considers that the imaginative awareness of spirit in nature is vital for those attempting to gather the resources needed to tackle the environmental crisis that we face.

The Texas Oil Patch, Pope Francis and Laudato si'

Gregory Schweers grew up in the middle of an area of the USA devoted to petrochemical production, and his family drew its living from this industry. He presents a reading of the encyclical deeply influenced by the ambiguity of such an upbringing. From this perspective he is able both to affirm positive aspects of the Pope's writing, but also suggest some points of critique.

“A Voice Crying in the Desert”: Laudato Si’ as Prophecy

Although Laudato Si’ is recognised as the first papal encyclical to deal so fully with environmental questions, Francis draws widely on the work of his predecessors, especially John Paul II and Benedict XVI. What, then, makes this encyclical distinctive? John Bayer argues that it is the prophetic character of the Pope himself, a character proper to the office that he holds.

Ignatian Spirituality and the Ecological Vision of Laudato si’

The question of how we are to view the world around us is central to Laudato si’. Is Creation, and all it contains, simply to be exploited to meet our short-term needs, or even desires? Younger discovers in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises pointers to a different outlook, one that can support the ‘ecological conversion’ to which the Pope is calling his readers.

Greening the Vows: Laudato si' and Religious Life

Reading the encyclical from the perspective of a consecrated life shaped by the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Margaret Scott sees in these vows an environmental sensitivity that leads to the cherishing of the earth. In this, the Pope’s patron, St Francis of Assisi, stands as a clear model and inspiration.

God in the Environment

One way of thinking about the impact that human beings have had on the environment is to see us as responsible for destroying an originally perfect Eden. Smith believes that there never was such earthly perfection. He offers instead insights derived from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, by which we can look forward, not back, to a time when all will come to fulfilment in Christ.

Seeing with Pure Eyes

Since the Enlightenment a scientific outlook has come to dominate the Western world, expanding over ever-wider areas of human knowledge. In the process, a more contemplative awareness that looks at the world with a loving gaze has been displaced. White argues that meaning is best accessed through this contemplation, the kind of meaning that we need to solve ecological problems.

Laudato Si and the Giving of the Spiritual Exercises: An Australian Perspective

Peter Saunders asks what effect this encyclical might have on how a director gives the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. It could, for instance, influence the choice of texts offered to the one praying. More challengingly, he suggests taking exercitants out of their familiar air-conditioned cocoons so as to experience the sacred character of a natural landscape.

From the Foreword

‘TODAY’S NEWSPAPER WRAPS tomorrow’s fish.’ This is not just a fine historical example of environmental protection through recycling, but a challenging contemporary image. In an era of 24-hour rolling news, it can be difficult for any story, however powerful, to retain public interest for more than a day or two. One result is that there is often a gap between an immediate reaction to whatever is happening and a more detached reflective response coming years or decades later. In May 2015 the publication of Laudato si’, the second encyclical of Pope Francis and the first by any pope to concentrate principally on environmental concerns, undoubtedly made the news headlines. Television and radio, newspapers and journals, and the various social media were full of comments and analyses, positive and negative. Yet the issues that the encyclical was exploring will take many years to address fully. So, in the interim, what can we make of the Pope’s words now, five months after they were sent out, not just to Roman Catholics or Christians but to the whole world?

This was the challenging question put to each of the contributors to this special edition of The Way. They are not presenting immediate news reports; but nor do they have the luxury of long hindsight. This is, therefore a series of presentations of a work in progress, how the encyclical looks at this stage from a variety of different perspectives—varying geographically, topically, and in their balance between appreciation and critique. Taken together they are intended to offer something of a stereoscopic, three-dimensional view of the encyclical. More than this, it is hoped that each reader will find something here to help in his or her own implementation of the Pope’s message.

It is, perhaps, the geographical variety here that is most immediately striking. Gregory Schweers grew up in an area of the USA that has relied heavily for its prosperity on the petrochemical industry, a place whose interests are inevitably in tension with a real commitment to environmental protection. Beth Crisp’s article describes the early settlers in Australia clearing the bush as part of their service to God—another viewpoint not easy to reconcile with the one the Pope presents. Pedro Walpole reads the encyclical from the perspective of the poor of the Asia–Pacific region. One effective response to Laudato si’ might start from a determination on the part of those from wealthier nations to stand in solidarity with the people whom he portrays.

Every reader will bring to the papal message his or her own concerns, interests and expertise. The biblical scholar Nicholas King focuses on the use that the Pope makes of scripture, and appreciates the way in which he treats passages in context and in some depth. Margaret Scott is a religious sister, and looks at the encyclical through the lens of her own vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These vows can be understood more fully from an environmental perspective, enhancing the life to which they give shape. Michael Smith has a particular interest in the work of the French Jesuit theologian and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. For him, Teilhard’s work is the key to unlocking aspects of what Francis has written.

As often in The Way, some of the writers here approach the topic under discussion with the tools offered by Ignatian spirituality, and specifically the Spiritual Exercises. Peter Saunders suggests that prayer in this mode might be better conducted while camping in a wilderness than in a comfortable, all-mod-cons retreat house. Robert Marsh has already explored possible connections between angels and the discernment of spirits. He extends this analysis here to take in the experience of the genius loci, the spirit of a place, as a key element of environmental activism. The Pope’s call for an ecological conversion inspires Paul Younger to consider how the Exercises might enable a retreatant both to hear, and to answer, such a call.

In ‘Seeing with Pure Eyes’ Teresa White does not offer a close reading of the encyclical. She does, however, describe a contemplative outlook which she believes will be vital if we are to solve the kind of ecological problems that prompted the Pope to write. It is widely recognised that, with Pope Francis, the man and the message are one and inseparable. John Bayer suggests that it is the prophetic nature of the Pope himself which takes his message here beyond the concerns expressed by his immediate predecessors.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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